Jennifer Kan Martinez

"Sailing on Light"

Welcome, writers and storytellers.  As you soar through life, wings flapping furiously, may this be a little rock for you to perch upon, rest for a while and maybe find some inspiration.


Adding Your Personal Touch to the Hero's Journey

How do we keep our stories from being too predictable?  One approach is layering, where, as in music, you repeat and vary your melody and harmony, intertwining similar but slightly different threads together.  You could, for example, create a couple that seems to have the same fight over and over again-- but the arguments evolve slowly, maybe even imperceptibly so, and the repetition serves to highlight the subtle differences.

If you think of the hero's journey as a classic story arc, another way to keep the story from being too linear is to add mini-arcs (subplots) which collide with the characters and their expectations.  To decide which are worth developing, what is your protagonist depending on (or assuming is constant)?  What seemingly external changes could completely change the course of their journey?  Those are the threads to develop-- and who knows?  Maybe your subplot will be more intriguing to you and become the main story line.

The most important thing, of course, is to write what feels good and organic to you and forget all of the story structures and advice you hear if it doesn't resonate with you.  Writers often doubt themselves, wondering if their writing is any good.  If it's true for you when you write it, then you've created a small time capsule for yourself.  You'll likely never feel or think exactly the same way again, and even if no one else gets to enjoy it, you can look back and see your own truth years later and remember yourself at that moment.

I started journaling when I was seven, and I'm now up to journal 54.  So, while one may think that I need more of a life or just write really huge, I love that I have so many time capsules of my different selves.  I can't, for example, even imagine thinking what I wrote as a seven-year-old: wishing there would be a toy store in Palm Springs when I heard we were going there, calculating how much extra TV I could watch because I'd watched less than my allotted quota the day before, and looking forward to spending the night at my friend's house so I wouldn't have to brush my teeth.  (What a nasty child I was.)

So, forgive yourself for being your age or for not being the best writer-- and keep on writing.  The only way to get better is to keep at it.


the hero's journey

The hero's journey is the classic story form, and while some may pooh-pooh it for being formulaic, it shouldn't be disregarded, either.

Here's a quick rundown: 

1.  Catalyst: something interrupts life as usual, and there's nowhere to go but in a new and different direction.

2.  The big event: the world is out of balance, and the protagonist has lost control.

3.  Rising events: events escalate, where more and more is at stake; subplots arise, which may parallel and/or change the main story; and backstory is often introduced here.

4.  Point of no return: the protagonist is fully committed now, and they have to go full-steam ahead, even if they don't seem at all prepared.

5.  Rising again: the protagonist is fully entrenched, and it seems like more and more obstacles appear in their way.

6.  Crisis: this is the death moment, where all seems lost, and the worst thing that could happen happens.

7.  Climax/Battle Scene: this is the inevitable meeting of strong opposing forces finally duking it out face-to-face.

8.  Resolution: this could be as small as a realization or as big as the universe blowing up.

This can all sound dry and useless without an example, so here's the classic "Star Wars" to illustrate:

1.  Catalyst: civil war rages against the evil galactic empire, the rebels steal the empire's Death Star plans, and the princess escapes with the plans.

2.  Big event: Princess Leia is captured, but C3PO and R2D2 escape with the plans.

3.  Rising events: R2D2 is captured, C3PO is lost, and Obi-Wan Kenobi shows Luke Skywalker his father's Jedi Knight light saber.

4.  Point of No Return: Luke Skywalker goes home and finds nothing but dust and smoke-- he literally has nowhere to go now.

5.  Rising again: Darth Vader threatens Princess Leia and destroys her planet (not so good), Luke Skywalker experiences the Force (good).

6.  Crisis: Han Solo, Obi-Wan Kenobi, Luke Skywalker and company all get dragged into the Death Star.

7.  Climax: Obi-Wan Kenobi (individual symbol of good) and Darth Vader (individual symbol of evil) battle with their light sabers, and the rest of the good guys collectively try to destroy the Death Star.

8.  Resolution: the Death Star is destroyed, Han Solo saves Princess Leia, and the princess gives Han Solo and Luke Skywalker medals for destroying the Death Star.

It's human nature to root for the underdog, and the hero's journey inspires us to puff our chests out a little bigger and believe in things not ordinarily possible.  In short, it's the attitude that people both love and hate in Americans-- that anything is possible, and anyone can make it happen.  And isn't that what stories are for?

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